Monday, November 11, 2013

The "Maybes" of Redefining Marriage

"Who am I to judge?"

This now famous question from Pope Francis simultaneously encouraged and shocked many.  Shouldn't we all want people who experience same-sex attractions to be treated with dignity and respect?  But why would the pope, of all people, speak so non-judgmentally about persons with same sex attractions? 

The Holy Father was reminding us that we are all sinners in need of God's saving mercy, and he was also calling us all to a deeper, more authentic respect for all of our fellow brothers and sisters.  But was the pope advocating "marriage equality" as a logical next step? 

Illinois legislators recently voted to change the legal definition of marriage in the Land of Lincoln, and some of them cited Pope Francis as part of the explanation for their actions.  Lost in the discussion was a less well known but very relevant quote from Cardinal Bergoglio shortly before he became Pope Francis--that is, comments made in 2010 when he fought to defend marriage from being redefined in Argentina:
“In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

Cardinal Bergoglio continued: “Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

So how is it possible that the same person could, on the one hand, speak with great passion about not judging and, on the other, describe the movement to redefine marriage in such stark terms?  In other words, is it possible to love and respect people with same-sex attractions, while simultaneously opposing the drive to alter the very nature of marriage?  Maybe some defenders of traditional marriage have seemed bigoted in the past, and so this "both/and" seems impossible.  But maybe Pope Francis is trying to return us to some deeper truths.

Maybe we won't know the wisdom of the movement to redefine marriage until we have had time to survey its fruits.  In the meantime, here are several other "maybes" that have been rattling around in my mind and heart regarding this question:
  • Maybe people are best defined by their sexual attractions and orientations, rather than by the fact that they are beloved sons and daughters of a heavenly Father.  
  • Maybe it doesn't matter whether society is so structured as to help children know both their mother and their father; in other words, maybe it doesn't matter whether boys have fathers and girls have mothers. 
  • Maybe the state will respect the rights of citizens to disagree with the redefinition of marriage, and maybe the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) will respect the religious liberty of employers, despite what the U.S. Bishops fear. 
  • Maybe advocates of redefining marriage will not change its definition again in the future, for example when multiple partners demand marriage equality.
  • Maybe judges and elected officials of our day understand the human person and the reality of marriage in a more profound way than Jesus of Nazareth, who shocked his own disciples by saying:
“Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female'...
 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh’?"....

“Not all can accept [this] word,
but only those to whom that is granted.
Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” (Mt 19: 4-5, 11-12)

There is clearly much for us to think and pray about.  It is definitely time to stop judging people--whether they agree with redefining marriage or not; but maybe it is also time to return to a deeper reflection on the nature of the human person, "from the beginning." 

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, pray for us--

P.S.  If you've made it this far, check out the following video clip to see whether you think the analogy of debating about the color of a red balloon applies to the issue of redefining marriage. 

P.P.S.  On a very different note, here is a link to the Catholic Relief Services, which is leading the Catholic Church's efforts to assist with recovery and rebuilding in the Philippines, Vietnam, and other areas impacted by the recent typhoon.